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The five rules of building a good beer menu

The coolest thing about having a beer column is that when you notice something in the beer world that irks you, you have a voice to speak out about it.

Something that has long annoyed me about many bars and restaurants is what amounts to a willing ignorance regarding the wide world of beer styles. Bartenders and servers too often seem oblivious to the fact that not everyone likes the same kind of beer. Unfortunately, this ignorance costs bartenders tip money and proprietors profits in lost sales.

So if you work in, own, frequent or manage a bar or restaurant — or if you know someone who does — I am speaking to you, so listen up.

There are five basic beer-style ranges that every bar and restaurant should carry.

The first is the most universally recognizable, Golden Pale Lager. This includes almost all of your domestic mega-brews, but can include higher-end styles like Munuch Helles, German or Czech Pilsner. Brands can include large brewers such as Budweiser, Coors, Miller Lite, Pils-ner Urquell, Stella Artois, but can rely on American craft beers such as Stoudt's Pils, Penn Gold Lager or Victory Prima Pils. The beauty of most golden lagers is their approachability and flexibility. Most people recognize the style, but there is still great variety and most pair well with a wide variety of foods.

Moving on, we have amber ales and lagers, which draw their name from their color. Amber ales and lagers are very versatile and match up with a wider variety of food. They can handle heavier fare that overpowers many golden lagers. These beers will often have caramel and/or sweet malt flavors and can range from moderately sweet to fairly bitter depending on hop levels. Well-known brands include Sam Adam's Boston Lager, Yuengling Lager, Brooklyn Lager and Michelob Amberbock on the lager side and Mendocino Red Tail, New Belgium Fat Tire, Rogue St. Rogue Red and Bell's Amber on the ale side.

Pale ale is yet another broad category that encompasses several styles. For the purpose of creating a beer menu, include American Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, British Bitter and even esoteric styles such as Biere de Garde. Common examples include Bass Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Dogfish Head 60 Minute India Pale Ale, Fuller's London Pride, Adnam's Broadside and Redhook ESB.

The fourth category, wheat beers, fall into a few basic types: German, Belgian, American. They're at once flavorful and refreshing. Big on flavor, often enhanced by the addition of fruit and/or spices, they nevertheless are quite refreshing and drinkable. Well-known brands include Blue Moon, Hoegaarden, Bell's Oberon, Widmer Hefeweizen and Paulaner Hefeweissbier.

Stouts/porters and dark lagers. This grouping can include dark lagers as well as ales. The color comes from roasted malts and often imparts coffee and chocolate flavors but can also include raisin, prune, plum, cherry and other flavors. Common brands include Guiness Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout, Kostritzer Schwarzbier, Anchor Porter and North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout.

Think of these as the five food groups of beer. Drink one of each for balance.

— Joey Redner is a Tampa resident and world beer traveler.

The five rules of building a good beer menu 05/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2008 4:30am]
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